After more than two decades in the Executive Search
business, I have learned a lot about what goes into a
successful hire. I try to impart my knowledge to both hiring
managers and candidates. Nevertheless, at many job
interviews I find myself listening to questions that make me
cringe and answers that make me want to cry.
Now it's my turn to talk.

Monday, May 7, 2012

I Just Want To Be Your "Friend"

I have now seen several news stories about a recent trend in hiring:  It seems that more and more employers are asking job candidates to supply their Facebook passwords as a condition of being hired. 

Is this request proper/ legal/ helpful/ a violation of a job-seeker’s first amendment rights?  We are in uncharted territory here, fellow pioneers.

Here’s one side:

At some point in the hiring process, an employer will likely ask a candidate to authorize verification of education and professional certifications, provide references from prior employers, possibly submit to drug testing, and in some cases expose themselves to criminal background and credit checks.  (Some states have severely curtailed use of credit checks for employment consideration.  I agree that credit background on a bricklayer is unnecessary but for highly responsible financial roles, I assure you, it is critical. Imagine hiring a CFO who had fully exhausted the line on 15 credit cards and had three mortgages on his house?)  Since most candidates agree to authorize these incursions into their private lives, why not Facebook?

On the other hand:

Headhunters and hiring managers are prohibited by law from asking potential employees about such matters as family plans, sexual orientation, religious affiliation, medical history and more.  So why should a candidate be pressured to allow an employer into a personal social network that might well reveal the answers to all these forbidden questions, in addition to their favorite alcoholic beverages and a proclivity for skinny-dipping.

Well, I am not a constitutional lawyer but I function as one frequently in discussions with my wife, children, and at parties where there is alcohol.  Based upon that legal foundation, my first thought is that this passion for someone’s Facebook password is troubling.  Many of us might not survive even the initial password pass-along, especially if our well-used password seems silly, juvenile, or just plain strange.  (Ilovemuffinforever, killtheman -- you know who you are.)  But, even if you survive shelling out your cool, yet tasteful password, do you want your potential employer to know that you “like” Political Candidate X, play Facebook Slots, and last checked in from Miss Kitty’s Bar & Grill at 3 am last Thursday night? (Hey, open mike nights are really fun.) 

As a result of the Facebook password controversy, several states have introduced bills that would prohibit coerced Facebook access. And now, a bill has been introduced at the federal level that would prevent employers from seeking access to social networking sites “to discipline, discriminate or deny employment to individuals…”  I reluctantly support the concept of this proposed legislation.

Anyone who knows me well knows that I have a nothing but disgust for excessive laws and regulations (and many of the people that author them.) The laws seem designed to replace common sense.  Having said that, it seems that the unwanted presence of strangers in your Facebook community just might destroy the freedom to share personal thoughts and pictures with your selected “friends” and even potentially destroy these social forums altogether.

Meanwhile, until legal restrictions are in place, I suggest you either take down your Facebook profile for the length of your job search, or at least remove all pictures in which you are over-served or under-dressed.   This way, you can happily provide your new password, Ilovemywork, to a potential employer when you are asked.

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